Category: Vatican

I’ve begun a series of articles that take a close look at Pope Benedict’s new social encyclical, Caritas in Veritate. In this first article, which focuses on the opening chapter, I examine the moral realism of this pope, a realism that transcends the easy categories of politics and social theory.

[Benedict's] theory about Truth is not his own, but the traditional teaching of the Church, as it comes to us from the Apostles and as it has been safeguarded and interpreted over the centuries. His theory is quite simply that every person longs for both truth and love. This longing can never be suppressed, in spite of modern pretensions to being ever-so-above-it-all. “All people feel the interior impulse to love authentically: love and truth never abandon them completely because these are the vocation planted by God in the heart and mind of every human person” (no. 1). Therefore, we will never be able to completely suppress the human desire to know the truth and to live in accordance with it.

Benedict’s perspective on Truth has its own view of human freedom as well as of the human good. “Each person find his good by adherence to God’s plan for him,… in this plan, he finds his truth, and through adherence to this truth he becomes free.” Two possible objections come to mind, from opposite intellectual poles. From the relativist side, we can practically hear the sophisticated eye-rolling over the idea that freedom means anything other than “doing as I please.” But consider these reasons why it is reasonable to follow God’s plan for our lives: (1) God knows more than we do; (2) He has the good of more people in mind, whereas honestly, most of us are mostly thinking of ourselves most of the time; and (3) He has a longer time horizon.

Read Caritas in Veritate: The Truth about Humanity” on the Acton Institute’s Caritas resource page.

I welcome your comments.

A Caritas in Veritate Reader

In response to the ongoing interest in Pope Benedict’s new encyclical, the Acton Institute is readying the publication of Caritas in Veritate — A Reader.

This encyclical, in all of its remarkable depth, will no doubt be the subject of thoughtful analysis for a long time to come. Later this summer, Acton will gather the best of its own commentary on Caritas and selected articles from other observers in a single volume that will be available in hard copy and in a digital format. We trust that this Reader will serve as a guide to understanding the encyclical and the thinking of Pope Benedict on important social questions. We’ll update you with information on how to purchase or download the Reader as we get closer to the publication date.

Headline Bistro, a news service of the Knights of Columbus, published a new roundup of commentary on Pope Benedict’s Caritas in Veritate encyclical. I am joined in “Catholic Thinkers Reflect on Caritas in Veritate” by Michael Novak, Kirk Doran and Carl Anderson. Here’s the introduction and the article, which was written by Elizabeth Hansen:

Last month, Pope Benedict XVI released his much-anticipated social encyclical, Caritas in Veritate. While it addressed the global economic crisis and the need for reform in business practices, the document was marked overall by its underlying premise of fostering true, integral development of the human person: a goal achieved by practicing charity in truth. Three Catholic economists and social thinkers shared their reflections on Caritas in Veritate via email correspondence with Headline Bistro.

Balance: In a word, that is what Michael Novak, Father Robert Sirico and Kirk Doran would name as the strength of Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical released one month ago today.

From discussing the pros and cons of development aid to a treatment on the theological principle of gratuitousness, the span of Caritas in Veritate is wide. The document’s suggestion of reform of the U.N. – “so that the concept of the family of nations can acquire real teeth,” the English translation said – grabbed headlines in the mainstream press, while Catholics noted Benedict’s insistence that true development involves the whole human person, on a spiritual as well as economic level.

Indeed, anything beyond a superficial read of the encyclical reveals its depth, which is what makes Pope Benedict’s ability to balance numerous perspectives and proposals on the technical end – even more, to transcend them – all the more impressive. (more…)

In his commentary, Samuel Gregg, director of research at the Acton Institute, explains how labeling Pope Benedict XVI as the “greenest pope in history” is actually misleading.  Instead, Benedict’s attention to the environment is grounded in an orthodox Christian theological analysis.  Gregg articulates this assertion by citing Benedict’s most recent social encyclical Caritas in Veritate:

Also telling is Benedict’s insistence upon a holistic understanding of what we mean by the word ecology. “The book of nature”, Benedict insists, “is one and indivisible: it takes in not only the environment but also life, sexuality, marriage, the family, social relations” (CV 51). In other writings, Benedict highlights the incongruity of people being outraged about wanton environmental destruction, while ignoring or even promoting the deep damage done by ethical relativism to society’s moral ecology.

Incidentally, the phrases “climate change” or “global warming” appear nowhere in Caritas in Veritate. Again, this is not surprising. Benedict has been careful not to prejudge the science of this complex subject. In his 2008 World Day of Peace message, Benedict observed that in thinking through environmental problems, “It is important for assessments to be carried out prudently, in dialogue with experts and people of wisdom, uninhibited by ideological pressure to draw hasty conclusions.”

Gregg reminds us that Benedict’s stance on environmental concerns is based upon a orthodox Christian theological reflection on man’s relationship with the natural world, and that the pope is careful to not romanticize nature.

The Rome Reports news service recently interviewed me about the new social encyclical, Caritas in Veritate. Here’s the segment, and a transcript of the interview.

Rome Reports: Benedict XVI’s encyclical, Charity in Truth is already on the list of best selling books this month. In it, the pope proposes the steps to achieve a sound economy and to avoid another economic crisis in the future.

Kishore Jayabalan: I think he is trying to change our orientation from a moral and ethical perspective, and to address economic and social affairs from a more Catholic moral perspective, sometimes we think catholic morality only has to do with marriage and family issues, or only as something that we hear about on Sundays in church.

RR: Kishore Jayabalan is an economist who directs the Acton Institute in Rome for the study of religion and freedom. He says that one of the most important points the pope stresses in building a new economy is respecting peoples rights to initiative and property.

Jayabalan: What the document refers to as breathing space, you have to let people on the grounds of subsidiarity come up with their our solutions to their own problems, they can’t all be dictated from the top down.

RR: Benedict also says the new economy should entail that globalization be a process that pursues the common good.

Jayabalan: The second thing, is that the rest of us needs to realize that globalization is a process for the good that excluding people from globalization is simply a way of spreading poverty more broadly across the world, which goes against catholic social teaching.

RR: According to Jayabalan, to solve economic problems, the theological aspect must also be included. In his encyclical, the pope explains why a relationship between God and man gives people more freedom.

Jayabalan: It allows for more freedom because it tells us that there is a relationship that the state cannot enter into, and I think this is why the encyclical refers to religious freedom for the first time in a social encyclical.

RR: But Jayabalan says that above all else, the pope seeks to unite two concepts that are often separated, respect for life and social justice. He says the popes gift to President Barack Obama the encyclical Dignitas Personae on Bioethics– clearly shows his agenda.

Jayabalan: The pro-life people tend to be on the right politically and the social justice people tend to be on the left politically and pope Benedict is trying to get us to look beyond those old categories.

RR: In short, according to Jayabalan, “Charity in Truth” is a call to work together for social justice, a goal that cannot be realized without a profound respect for human life in all its stages.

Back in 1983, economist Thomas Sowell wrote The Economics and Politics of Race, an in-depth look at how different ethnic and immigrant groups fared in different countries throughout human history. He noted that some groups, like the overseas Chinese, Japanese, and Jews, tended to thrive economically no matter where they went, bringing new skills to the countries that they arrived in and often achieving social acceptance even after facing considerable hatred and violence. Other groups, like the Irish and the Africans, tended to lag economically and found it difficult to become prosperous.

Sowell explained many of these differences by looking at the cultures both of the immigrant groups and of the dominant powers in the countries that they moved to. The Chinese, Japanese, and Jews, for example, valued work. They often arrived in countries with little more than the clothes on their backs, but they worked long and hard hours in menial labor and saved money scrupulously to make life better for their children. Even if they lacked social acceptance, they were allowed the freedom to develop their talents and contribute to the economic life of their new homes.

Irish and African cultures were never offered these opportunities. Ireland’s feuding lords had prevented hard work from being rewarded in Ireland, a situation that only got worse with British occupation. Sowell shows how Africans were similarly discouraged from working hard because slavery and the Jim Crow Era made it impossible for skills and effort to pay off in better standards of living. So long as hard work never paid off, there was no incentive for Irish or African cultures to emphasize entrepreneurship, and the members of these ethnic groups suffered from poverty rates much higher than those of other populations in the places they lived.

Fast forward to 2009. With many of the institutional barriers to the advancement of ethnic minorities gone from most countries, historically disadvantaged groups are catching up with the general population in economic terms. Pope Benedict revisited the theme of economics and culture in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate, coming to similar conclusions as Sowell does about the role that culture plays in the development of the human person. (more…)

Rev. Robert A. Sirico had two recent appearances on Relevant Radio’s Drew Mariani Show to discuss the new social encyclical from Pope Benedict XVI.  His first appearance was prior to the release of the encyclical and he explained how Christians who support the free economy believe that it should not be based on greed.  To have a just society, we must have just people.  When money becomes the end of a person, and a person’s whole life is directed to that end, Rev. Sirico points out that then a person is destroyed.  Finally, he closes with an important message: If we do no understand love then we do not understand ourselves because we are the result of God’s love.

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In his second appearance, Rev. Sirico explains why Pope Benedict XVI does not have any intention to declare himself in the middle of a political debate with the release of Caritas in Veritate.  The pope does not recommend a political model.  Instead, Caritas in Veritate is meant to lay down the principles on how to govern a society.  The encyclical accepts the reality and benefits of a market economy but states a market economy does not contain the moral guide that a society needs.  Rev. Sirico also asserts that the ambiguities that are in Caritas in Veritate are intentional.  Certain principles need an application which requires the virtue of prudence.  The pope allows ambiguity because this will foster a debate and from the debate the Church can gain a greater insight from what it is trying to get to and then re-articulate its message.  Rev. Sirico reminds us that it is important to understand that the Church’s social teaching is not a dogmatic pronouncement that is not debatable.  Instead, it is a dynamic process.

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Kathryn Lopez, editor of National Review Online, has a Townhall.com column on Caritas in Veritate titled, “Liberal Catholics Can’t Handle the Truth.”  Lopez looks at the commentary on Caritas in Veritate, especially by the left, and shows why the encyclical should not be politicized.  The encyclical is about truth, which can not be bent to advance a political agenda, she asserts.  Kishore Jayabalan, director of Acton’s Rome office, was also quoted in Lopez’s article:

Neither side . . . seems ready to take Benedict’s theology — his own field of expertise — seriously. Part of this is a result of our habitual, liberal-democratic tendency to separate Church and State and not let theological arguments influence our politics. This tendency invariably blinds us to the pope’s combination of respect for life with the demands of social justice. … Reading ‘Charity in Truth’ for partisan purposes can yield moments of agony and ecstasy for left and right alike.

Both Jayabalan and Lopez remind us to read Caritas in Veritate without politicizing it or categorizing it left or right.

Zenit published my article on the pope’s new social encyclical:

Encyclical Offers Opportunity to “Think With the Church”

By Jennifer Roback Morse

SAN MARCOS, California, JULY 17, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI’s “Caritas in Veritate” is his contribution to the course of Catholic social teaching.

Many commentators seem to read this document as if it were a think-tank white paper, and ask whether the Pope endorses their particular policy preferences. I must say that I surprised myself by not reflexively reading it in this way. After all, I spent many years teaching free-market economics.

I distinctly remember reading “Centesimus Annus” for the first time, and mentally checking to see if I agreed with it.

But this is not the correct way to read papal documents. The papacy’s prophetic role is to interpret the past, and provide guidance for the future, while avoiding the excesses of its own time.

In “Caritas in Veritate,” Benedict XVI argues for the centrality of moral considerations in both economics and politics. Without charity and truth, we cannot create a truly decent society, no matter how sophisticated our technology or how thorough-going our democracy.

Benedict XVI stresses the centrality of the social, cultural sphere for several reasons.

First, neither the economic nor the political spheres can function entirely on their own. Both the economic and the political sectors need to be peopled with individuals who have well-formed consciences. Therefore, economics and politics rely upon the Church, the family, and other social structures that shape the conscience.

Second, the cultural sphere needs its own defense. Both the economic and the political sectors have plenty of ideological defenders. The libertarian right seems to believe that the market can manage all of society. The socialist left seems to think that the government can solve every problem and wipe away every tear.

Extremists on both sides fail to respect culture’s distinctive role. (more…)

“I vote for Democrats for one primary reason. They raise taxes on the rich.”

So says Michael Sean Winters at In All Things, the blog of the contributors to America Magazine. Of course, most Americans, perhaps even Mr. Winter, generally need excuses to raise taxes on the rich. The hottest reason at the moment is to pay for universal health care coverage. Winter likes this reason. If passed, he says that it will be the “first outstanding example of a policy that reflects Benedict’s call for a more just society,” a slight departure from his predictions at In All Things back on November 25, when he said that the now-accomplished bailouts of the Big Three automakers and the passage of an economic “stimulus” bill would help “strike a more just balance in society.”

But I digress.

Winter believes that the way to promote “social justice” includes taxing the super-rich, which he defines as “families making more than $350,000 per annum” in order to establish a new federally-controlled health care system. The good news for medical students is that you, too, can be super-rich. The bad news for Winter is that there are far more reasons to oppose universal health care and cranking up taxes on well-off Americans than just the need to “put off buying that bigger boat for a month, or doing the repairs on the Condo in the mountains” and the desire to “keep the abortion funding out of the (health care) bill.”

For example, Winter acknowledges that some on the Right will “rant that the proposal will stifle investment,” before he dismisses it as “an argument that only an academic can make.” Right he is. Only an academic would argue that Winter is wrong in saying that higher taxes could not possibly reduce investment because “whatever happens between you and the tax man, you will make investments that will earn you more income to begin with.” An academic, or someone with money in the stock market who has ever been forced to make choices after Tax Day. Regardless of their merit in any given case, higher taxes reduce investment. That is not some partisan talking point. It is the fact that people cannot put as much money in bank accounts or the stock market when the government takes money away from them. If Winter really wants to take up to $54,000 more in taxes out of the hands of as many as 6 million Americans, he better expect less investment. (more…)